(This post was inspired by the wonderfully talented and witty Jessie Shires who wrote a post on a similar subject. Hers concerned being hesitant over being called a “poet.”)
I’m a writer.
That’s so easy to say to myself, and to call myself this on my blog. But the truth is (and yes you may call me a coward) I find it hard admitting this in real life to strangers or acquaintances.
Especially when someone asks the question:
“So, what do YOU do?”
(I’m a writer.) I think. But I say…
Well, right now I’m teaching theater, and I was a tutor for a while, before that I did substitute teaching, and maybe I might go to grad school, debating becoming a full-time teaching, I still do some acting once in a while… um… um… (What else do you want me to say to make you feel comfortable, to make you fill that big blank space that you think should be filled with something like: “I’m curing cancer” “I’m a mother of 3” “I’m starting my own business” “I’m staring a Ph.D. program” etc. etc. etc.???)
Pathetic right? There are other writers more courageous than me, like Lua, who in point-blank range told an old law school classmate that yes she had quit law school to pursue a career as a writer and to get her Masters in Creative Writing. She stood proud and strong in who she was and she didn’t flinch once. Which is what every writer should be able to do at all times.
I admire her for that.
But as for me, well…
To take a cue from Jesse... when I hear the word “writer,” an image comes to mind that is not so flattering:
A young man in his 20’s, white male. Hasn’t shaved for days. All in black. His legs crossed. His chin up in condescension. He tells you he has a book in the process of being published, it’s not a big publisher, but that doesn’t matter. He’s farther a long than you, and he’ll point that out indirectly. He smells of smoke. He eyes you semi-seductively, makes you feel uncomfortable and insecure, probed. He has no job. His rich parents pay his rent. He’s doing several writing workshops, always writing about some abstract topic like “remorse,” never anything specific. The characters are flat and one-dimensional, nothing original or daring about it. He’s been writing the same book for years, thinks criticism from others is not to be taken seriously. He knows more than them, he’ll keep writing his way. He knows more about literature than you do, and he’ll indirectly you make you know it. He’s got big connections you never met, but you assume exist somewhere. He can write your book better than you do, and he indirectly makes you know it.
Why that image comes to mind, I don’t know. But maybe it’s because that is the image that I believe others conjure up in their head whenever I begin to say that “I am a writer.”
After the “I am” it’s all downhill from there. As I hang on the “w” they already suspect my life is not stable. As I curl my tongue up for the “r,” they figure that I’m a love obsessed, sex obsessed, emotional-charged, basket-case. As I hang open my mouth on the “i” they assume I’m full of myself. The “t” comes, and they already know that I don’t follow the normal path, and that makes me an outsider. Then comes the “e” and they figure I’ll never amount to anything, and I’m wasting my time. Then the second “r,” and the repetition of letters makes it clear to them that I must be delusional, out of touch, a little weird.
Jesse’s post had me wondering: why is it so hard for me to admit that I’m a writer in person, to strangers or acquaintances? Why can’t I just say what I want to say?
My name is Ollin. I’m a writer. I’m writing a novel. That is all I’m doing. That’s enough. I’m complete. I don’t need to attach anything to that. No degrees, no large-scale activism, no ring on the finger from a lover, no adventurous or outrageous travel experiences, no interesting connections or VIP’s that are my friends, no big house, or million dollar bank account, no fancy car, or large investment, or big company, or fancy title, or large-scale community project. JUST ME! I’M A WRITER! THAT’S ALL! BUT THAT’S ENOUGH! THAT’S MORE THAN ENOUGH!
I’m Ollin. I’m a writer. It takes up a lot of my time. I love it, and I don’t want anything else. I’m perfectly happy with what I am doing.
So if you ask me what do I do, I will always tell you, from now on, whether I know you or not, that I’m a writer. I’ll be a writer for the rest of my life. I’m writing a book. It’s exciting, it’s fulfilling, it’s a work of love, it’s a worthwhile endeavor, and there’s not much else you need to know about me other than that.
Don’t think that is very interesting? Ok. But… you don’t have to think it’s interesting. I do.
So if that doesn’t satisfy you as an answer to the question: “What do YOU do?” Then you can find someone else who will lie to you, so that you can feel more comfortable.
I’m done lying, or filling the blank with what people want to hear–or what I THINK they want to hear.
Hi. I’m Ollin. I’m a writer.
And. That’s. Enough.
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